The key is community.
DiscoverE today announced ASCE members Chad Norvell and Margarita Kovalchuk among its 2017 New Faces of Engineering, Professional and College editions.
Both Norvell and Kovalchuk have made community a focus of their early civil engineering careers.
“What you find out quickly is that the engineering is only a small fraction of the work you have to do,” said Norvell, P.E., M.ASCE, a project manager at Nishkian Dean in Portland, OR, who credits his undergraduate years as a volunteer for Engineers Without Borders USA with teaching him about community.
“The bulk of the work is in community organizing and building community capacity and sustainability development methods.”
Upon graduating from Portland State University, Norvell took on an immense community challenge – three years as director of WorldHaus, a social enterprise that works to provide affordable housing in India.
“Ostensibly I was there to design structures and develop new structural systems for the Indian housing market,” Norvell said. “But I ended up surveying remote villages, meeting with community development organizations in urban slums, brokering deals with some of the largest developers in Asia, and resolving labor disputes in the field, among many other things, simply because these things needed to be done to keep our mission moving forward.
“Of course, I didn’t learn any of this in engineering school. So, I had to develop an entirely new skill set drawn from business, economics, development, and conflict resolution.”
Kovalchuk, the collegiate New Face honoree, is active in the California State University, Sacramento ASCE Student Chapter, has served as an officer of the school’s Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society, and is president of the school’s Society of Women Engineers section. It was at a SWE event several years ago that she first took an interest in civil engineering.
“It really brought together how I could use science and math to help people,” said Kovalchuk, who was particularly drawn to water resources engineering. “I was born and raised in Sacramento, so I grew up hearing about droughts and floods, floods and droughts. With engineering, I can impact entire communities of people, entire regions.”
This academic year, Kovalchuk has been researching ways to reduce flood risk in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta through subsidence reversal in constructed wetlands. She will be working on environmental fluid mechanics research at Texas A&M this summer, thanks to a research grant, before returning to Sacramento for her senior year.
“Through this research in Texas I’ll have an opportunity to diversify my experience before I select a specific concentration for graduate school,” Kovalchuk said. “Ever since I was younger, I’ve been fascinated by how I’d be able to take my skills and maximize my impact.”
Norvell, meanwhile, is exploring seismic-risk reduction work, working to protect his hometown of Portland from a catastrophic earthquake. It is a multidisciplinary task – combining technical expertise with social science.
“That is something right now that interests me a lot, and I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of it,” Norvell said. “I’m looking forward to learning more and, hopefully, making communities safer.”
The 2017 DiscoverE New Faces of Engineering counted many civil engineers among the honorees, with Ashley Nichole Evans, India Kaczmarek, Thomas Synovec, Moises Bonilla, and Ashley Cronk joining Norvell and Kovalchuk on the list.
See a history of recent New Face winners at the DiscoverE website.